What to do in response to North Korea’s underground nuclear testing, taking in consideration the role of China, Japan and the United States?
Economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, while demonstrating a unified condemnation, address only the economic end of the regimes relationship with its people and the rest of the world. As seen in the case of Cuba and Venezuela (previously documented in Dark Matter Politics) sanctions become an effective political tool governments can utilise to galvanise and polarise popular opinion within their countries. Furthermore, the current US administration "axis of evil" policy, - which effectively destroyed 50 years of détente -, further inflames the propaganda and aggresive posture of governments such as North Korea.
Interestingly enough, China one of the most influential regional players, is particularly resistant to economic sanctions against North Korea because it believes these could push North Korea's population over the edge, resulting in a flood of refugees into China's neighbouring Liaoning and Jilin provinces and spurring domestic instability. Any further action, other than a strong statement of disapproval from China is unlikely. The reality is that China views North Korea as an important buffer against U.S. forces in South Korea and a friend deserving of some loyalty. Furthermore, reports indicate China supplies 70% of North Korea fuel and 40% of North Korea food supply.
The other key player in this equation is Japan. The nuclear test conducted by North Korea coincided with a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to South Korea’s capital Seoul. Although it is unlikely the North Korean nuclear test will trigger an immediate arms race; Shinzo Abe Japan’s Prime Minister has hinted an end to Japan’s long enduring pacifist constitution. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s youngest premier (only 52 years old) and first born after World War II will take Japan into a more robust military and assertive foreign policy. Furthermore, among Abe’s new inner circle are Foreign Minister Taro Aso, known for his hard line stance toward China. If Japan sought a nuclear deterrent, it could develop it internally – after all, Japan is third, after the United States and France, in nuclear power output, and its 43 tons in plutonium stockpiles are among the largest in the world.
As for the United States, the nuclear testing undertaken by North Korea provides extra fuel to the current administrations’ "axis of evil" rhetoric. As for the US media, we can now expect nothing more than an assault in our senses and establishing a "state of fear". Reports of the mighty North Korean army (4th largest military in the world) will be paraded in front of our TV screens, the same way the media hyped the military capabilities of the Iraq. Without a doubt this incident will be used by the Republican party to establish of "state of fear" before the upcoming November 7th election in the House of Representatives. Currently, the House is currently composed of 230 Republicans, 201 Democrats and 1 Independent.
More concerningly and a reflection of the current US foreign policy, although North Korea is using its nuclear capabilities as a deterrent force, it has been demanding a non-aggression treaty and diplomatic relations with Washington.
Deliver knowledge to the North Korean people and they will make the choice regarding how their government should act. Do not deliver the North Korean people hunger and deprivation in the form of economic and aid sanctions. As for the North Korean government, engage in meaningful politics and diplomacy (as opposed to a pointless war of words with Pyongyang) leveraging the influence of China, the EU and Japan.